[KHTS] – More than 100 Santa Clarita residents gathered at Central Park Wednesday evening for the 10th anniversary of the annual Evening of Remembrance for the city of Santa Clarita’s Youth Grove.
The Youth Grove is an area where friends and families can remember young lives, ages 24 and younger, lost from traffic-related incidents.
The Youth Grove is now home to 93 individual pillars, each bearing a plaque with the name of a young life lost.
The pillars, which mimic cut tree stumps to symbolize young lives cut short on the road, surround a central monument urging the community to “Know More” about safe driving habits and pledge that “No More” young lives will be lost behind the wheel.
The evening began with the Walk of Remembrance, followed by the Evening of Remembrance ceremony.
A white rose was given to the parents of the deceased for the Walk of Remembrance, who then put it on the tree stump in the Youth Grove bearing their child’s name.
In honor of all of the 93 names read, a bell was tolled and for each name, glow sticks were cracked.
Debbie Knight and Katherine Tabajdi helped found the the Santa Clarita Youth Grove memorial, said Tabajdi.
“It’s a blessing to see the support that the community has for each other, but the educational message is really important,” said Knight. “When it was started, there were three reasons: to remember the young people, to give them the young people a safe place to come to remember their friend and, the most important, is the educational tool to remind people that this is something that really happens that we can avoid by making good decisions… It’s a message for all of us.”
Tabajdi has eight friends and classmates who are honored at the Santa Clarita Youth Grove, however it was the death of her friend “CJ” in December of 2002 that sparked the idea.
When Tabajdi heard that CJ had been in a traffic collision, she was 19-years-old and pregnant.
“It was the first time I had experienced the death of a friend as a mother. I remember standing in the parking lot of the hospital after she had passed and my baby, now 12, jumped in my belly,” said Tabajdi. “My husband gently whispered to me, ‘he knows, he’s hugging you from the inside.’”
CJ’s passing affected Tabajdi in a “powerful way.” It was at CJ’s funeral that the memorial Knight conceived was first proposed, said Tabajdi.
“It’s an emotional time for me because I have two sons here, but it’s a time when we can come remember our children and to spread the word about safe driving,” said Alice Renolds, a member of the city of Santa Clarita’s Blue Ribbon Task Force, along with her husband, Tom.
The Renolds’ youngest sons, Danny and Timmy, were both killed in a car crash on Feb. 17, 2000.
“Any chance that we have to spread the word about safe driving, whether it’s reckless driving, texting, drinking and driving, whatever it is, we need to get the word out to kids as well as adults,” said Renolds. “They need to know that car they’re driving is a lethal weapon and that life is precious.”
The Renolds family now speaks at Every 15 Minutes events, Community Court, are members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force and attends the Evening of Remembrance.